I grew up in a little town called Hopkins thirty minutes south of Grand Rapids. Graduated high school and went to CC for a year because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I joined the army and became an officially trained carpenter and mason in the United States Army. I did two years active, got out and went to Western Michigan University through ROTC and got my degree in Construction Management.
After college, Shawn built homes in Chicago, became a superintendent in Michigan, worked for the third largest home builder in the United States (Pulte Homes), moved into construction sales, and then went into business for himself. He then taught the first cohort of pre-apprentice construction trainees in Kalamazoo, MI.
No matter what trade you get into, you need to have a certain set of core skills and that’s where all of this starts. We start at, ‘this is a tape measure, here are the dimensions on the tape measure, and how to read a tape measure, we go on to hand tools and power tools. And then we’ll move into application of those skills because we try to split our day into half lecture and half in the shop.
What opportunities are available to graduates?
If you’ve just completed this course, you’ll get a piece of paper that says ‘I have the basics’, so you can be folded into a framing crew, a drywall crew, or an interior finish crew with not only the opportunity to work, but maybe a head start on an opportunity to climb the ladder – to become a crew leader and then a foreman. Someone who doesn’t go through the course doesn’t get to see what’s going on outside of their current view. I think they’ll be a year ahead of the average guy who doesn’t do the program.
Why do you think interest in the trades has waned?
I think the four-year college has been over-preached. There’s a stigma that people in construction or the army are there because they aren’t smart enough to get into college. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The best superintendent I ever met/learned from dropped out of high school in the 10th grade!! I think that there’s like 50% of people that don’t do best when they’re in class.
Which trades are in the highest demand right now?
Can I answer “All of the above?!” It’s hard to pick just one because I know guys in every trade, and they all say the same thing: We all need skilled tradespeople. When you learn the skills needed to build cities, advance technology, and connect infrastructure you will be in very, very high demand.
According to Indeed.com, Electricians are the highest paid trade, making an average of $25.26 per hour.
Why did you want to teach at the West Michigan Construction Institute?
The fact that the ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) is involved and so many local businesses are involved and supporting is huge, huge, huge. Funding and the like have been the concern with other programs, but WMCI is going to have the backing to exist for a long, long time. I’m sure there will be growing pains this first year but when they happen, we’ll simply pivot and figure them out. It’s actually an advantage of us all coming from a construction background. Because anyone who’s ever been on a jobsite knows that everything never goes 100% to plans. You have to adapt, to problem-solve. And that’s a skill that stays with you in every facet of life.
What’s one piece of advice you’d want to give your younger self?